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Comment: November 2011


November 14, 2011
By Laura King


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I was trying to come up with an anecdote to illustrate the fact that the fire service is not going to convince Ottawa it needs federal support until MPs have a clearer picture of the country’s departments:

I was trying to come up with an anecdote to illustrate the fact that the fire service is not going to convince Ottawa it needs federal support until MPs have a clearer picture of the country’s departments: Would you give your child money for a field trip without first seeing the supporting documentation from the school? Would you pay 100 per cent up front for home renovations and risk the contractor not completing the job? Didn’t think so.

So why, then, has the fire service expected Ottawa to take its word that there are 25-year-old apparatuses in use in Canadian fire departments from coast to coast to coast, that departments – particularly volunteer departments – need funding for fire prevention, and that firefighters do a whole lot more than respond to fires.

Now, after considerable discussion about a national fire advisor and much consultation by provincial fire chiefs associations and the CAFC about how to work with Ottawa, some fire-service leaders have started thinking outside the box but inside the parameters that MPs, ministries and standing committees need in order to better understand what’s going on.

People like Rhéaume Chaput, the fire chief in Belleville, Ont., and chair of the CAFC’s fire and life safety committee, and Len Garis, the chief in Surrey, B.C., and president of the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C., are among numerous key fire-service personnel who have been researching and strategizing to determine how best to build a database that would help Ottawa understand the magnitude and response capabilities of the Canadian fire service, and help the fire service better plan, prepare, budget and evolve.

Chaput’s research paper on the issue for the CAFC, released earlier this year, combined with Garis’s academic connections, have resulted in a year-long project under which fire-service agencies and stakeholders will be consulted about Canada’s first national fire-statistics database. The database project is funded by a $149,000 grant from the Canadian Police Research Centre (ironic?).

While the data may be used to present valid arguments to Ottawa about the need for federal funding, more importantly, it can be used for resource deployment, to construct business cases for fire-code amendments or to identify service gaps, ultimately resulting in greater safety.

I get e-mails almost weekly from students, fire officers and media looking for the numbers of fires, fire fatalities, fire departments and firefighters in Canada. The numbers are impossible to find. Fire marshals’ offices keeps their own incident data but the statistics are not centralized. The Canadian Council of Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners has fire-loss stats on its website – from 2008.

As Sean Tracey said in Chaput’s research paper and in our story on page 32, “One of the biggest challenges [in] effecting change in fire safety is the lack of reliable fire statistics . . .

The lack of national fire statistics in Canada may be hindering the fire services’ abilities to address emerging trends and issues.”

When the CAFC comes calling and wants your input on this worthy endeavour, be sure to respond.


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